Lapland, a region stretching across the Polar Arctic Circle, resembles the kind of magical, fantasy world that you may have conjured up as a child when you were wondering where Christmas presents came from. After all, the place is the official hometown of Santa Claus and his reindeer, where spectacular Northern lights whisper in tones and ripple the sky without warning. In the summer, the midnight sun hangs above at all hours, bathing even the Polar regions in a jubilant glow.
Although Lapland is famous for having more reindeer than people, the biggest reindeer is hiding in plain sight in Rovaniemi, made by architect Alvar Aalto himself and embedded in the street plan of the capital city. You’ll want to wander the capital to experience this “Antler Town Plan” in person.
Rovaniemi also has ample Arctic design stores, thrift shops packed with Marimekko dresses, a stunning Arctic museum as well as modern, minimal boutique hotels dressed up with items by Finnish designers. Here’s where you should go if you’re looking to discover design in this Arctic city.
WHERE TO STAY
Haawe Hotel in the capital city of Rovaniemi features 14 themed rooms: pick the Sauna-themed room if you want to immerse yourself in the vibrant Finnish culture surrounding “löyly”. This Finnish word refers to throwing water on hot stones and being enveloped by the cloud of steam—get a headstart on löyly in the private sauna in your hotel room.
The various rooms in the hotel are furnished with plenty of Marimekko home accessories, from the throw on the bed to the towels to the robes you’ll love to wear.
We also visited the Arctic Light Hotel down the road. Although we didn’t get to stay or check out the rooms, we did have dinner at the hotel’s cosy and intimate Arctic Restaurant. Of all the meals over the 10 days in Finland, from Rovaniemi to Helsinki, this dinner came out tops.
Everything on the restaurant’s fine dining menu is inspired by the richness of Lapland: game from the Northern forest and fells, fish and seafood from the Lappish lakes and the Arctic Ocean, forest berries and mushrooms, and meadowsweet and blueberries as a sweet note to end the meal.
WHERE TO VISIT
It’s hard to miss this long, transparent building that resembles a thin glasshouse, stretching along the grassy fields beside the highway as you enter the city of Rovaniemi.
Arktikum, also known as the Polar Museum, is a home for gorgeous exhibits that both explain and mystify this beautiful Arctic region—from dioramas of polar bears and wolves to interactive installations explaining the green and blue lights or auroras that shimmy in the Winter sky. End with a short movie in the in-house theatre that surveys Lapland’s natural wonders.
The museum was designed by the Danish architect group Birch-Bonderup and Thorup-Waade. The iconic glass shell, which rises vertically and also runs parallel to the ground horizontally, provides an L-shaped transparent shell so that the underground museum is exposed to natural light and to the changing natural landscapes around it. The crescent-shaped new annex was designed by Claus Bonderup and Janne Lehtipalo in the autumn of 1997.
Modern art lovers must visit Korundi, a cultural house, art gallery, and concert hall. Korundi is home to both the Chamber Orchestra of Lapland and the Rovaniemi Art Museum and exhibits Finnish modern art as well as international works.
Rovaniemi often attracts Alvar Aalto pilgrims who come to experience his works in this Northern region. Apart from the housing projects in this area, the most prominent of Aalto’s works is “Aalto Center” located right in the administrative center of Rovaniemi.
Here, he designed Rovaniemi City Hall, the city library and Lappia Hall around a descending, stepped garden.
You’ll want to step inside Rovaniemi City Library to study how the lofted lights in the building’s facade bring brightness into the sunken floor study areas.
The library was constructed in 1965. Aalto’s following project, Lappia Hall—home of the professional Rovaniemi Theatre—was constructed next to the library in 1976. All interiors and furniture were designed by Alvar Aalto; in fact, it is the last building that he saw completed before his death.
WHERE TO SHOP
Arctic Design Shop located in Downtown Rovaniemi carefully curates objects and artwork from local Finnish designers. Perhaps the most prominent design shop in Rovaniemi, you can expect to find art, food, throws, and friendly staff excited to tell you about their favorite finds. In fact, the store is owned by the student union of the University of Lapland and promotes the art and design productions of the school’s talented students and graduates.
One of the most beautiful draws of Rovaniemi is the expanse of nature. While this guide focuses on Lapland for design lovers, it would be a shame not to wander outside, visit a reindeer farm, or hike through the dozens of trails leading from the city. Foraging is a common practice here because the forests are so rich with berries and mushrooms; and in the summer, thanks to close to 24 hours of daylight, you can hike until midnight and not have to worry about a headlamp. Try floating on the river while the midnight sun hangs over your head, or sitting around a fireplace by the Arctic Garden. While man-made design is thoughtful and exciting in Rovaniemi, nature’s design is abundant here, lavish and beautiful, and I urge you to take plenty of walks away from the city to enjoy the peaceful wellness and calm that comes from being in one of the Northernmost regions of the world.